Preface from “Experiencing Jazz” by Michael Stephans (Scarecrow Press)

What is that makes jazz so special?  Surely there is a lot of music that have commonalities with jazz: solo excursions co-existing with group participation;  spontaneous improvisation;  a “groove” of some sort;  virtuosic expertise on an instrument;  passion and sophistication all mixed together and more.  So WHY JAZZ?
Simply because it represents THE music of our time coalescing in American cities created by  people from all cultures mixed together, most notably in its birthplace, early 20th century New Orleans.  Jazz, being a folk music of sorts  reflected the life of the people of this epoch, the joy, sorrow, aspirations and celebrations. Certainly African Americans are well represented, yet as I write in 2012 it is fact that jazz increasingly includes people from all over the world. Musically speaking, the technical aspects of jazz are heard far afield from its home environment, in pop music and contemporary classical settings and of course more and more in “world” music. Jazz is the lingua franca of the past 100 years and as an educator, I can attest to the abundance of jazz learning going on worldwide on the university level. Jazz, despite the impression that it may be of importance to only a few listeners, is here to stay in one form or another.
Art can communicate on any or all three levels that Michael refers to in this book as ears, mind and heart. One may be attracted to a work of art because the technique is so dazzling, or the mood that the piece conjures up strikes a responsive note. Sooner or later it is the spirit and passion of the artist that truly affects the receiver of the art. For jazz, the listener may at first enter the door of appreciation on any one of these levels. Other arts have a more shall I say “dramatic” atmosphere when it is presented…ballet, theater, poetry, painting and sculpture, etc. One can physically see the artistic creation.  But music is much more elusive, especially when it appears to move fast as improvised music often does as a result of several improvisers offering their experience, knowledge, heart and soul in the moment, creating a special synergy. The way Michael presents the material in this book offers a perfectly balanced approach to entering the world of jazz as a listener at first on the “mind” level, but with the understanding that one will sooner or later hear the music from the heart.
I have known Mike for the past six years since he moved to the area of Northeast Pennsylvania where I live, a fertile area for jazz musicians by the way. Michael is first and foremost a great jazz drummer with an encyclopedic knowledge of the music. We have shared some great moments recording and performing together. Besides other musical abilities (trombone and singing for example), Mike is a published poet and excellent prose writer as you will see. What makes him the perfect person for a book of this sort is that he truly wants to communicate with people about this special music that we hold so dearly. People who dedicate themselves to jazz are well aware of the necessity of  honesty and sincerity when entering this universe.
Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion is a “perfect storm” of sorts…..written by a master musician, poet and writer describing the special world of jazz past, present and future in a lively, non-academic tone that for anyone who has an inkling of interest in jazz will further their appreciation of the music.
Dave Liebman

July 17 2012
Stroudsburg, PA USA